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Dangerous hands: gangsters in Nepal
Publication Date : 04-04-2012
Since the 1990s, a few names have haunted the streets of the capital. In hushed conversations on street corners, people began taking the names of people like Milan Gurung alias Chakre Milan, Dinesh Adhikari, aka Chari and Deepak Manange in the late 1990s.
A decade later and with many gangsters, including Milan Gurung, in jail, mafia gangs continue to be active in the capital.
In fact, their networks have been steadily growing and alliances of Kathmandu-based gangsters have spread far and wide to various other cities in Nepal. In the past few years, cities in the Tarai have also seen a rise in gang-related criminal and politicised activity.
In many ways, this criminal activity has been the foundation of a Nepali post-democratic culture defined by nepotism, cronyism and patronage. These three inherent traits of Nepali democracy have been made possible in large by the presence of gangsters. And the reason why the nefarious culture persists is best explained by the politician-gangster nexus. This means that while numerous crimes which are punishable by law are carried out by the "dons" of Kathmandu or elsewhere, these goons are either let off scot-free or only serve short stints in jail because they enjoy protection from big business houses and the patronage of politicians.
So the news that police have arrested six members of the notorious Ghaite and Chakre Milan gang, as happened on April 2, is much appreciated. In fact, the arrest of the ‘don’ Milan himself in 2009 is noteworthy. But the crimes, for which these gangsters are sometimes arrested for, reek of political affiliation. For example, gang fights and rivalry germinate generally out of clashing business interests. These thugs, involved in forcefully getting government contracts to the party of their interests, are also involved in kidnapping, extortion, and all kinds of illegal activities, including drug pedalling and smuggling. The use of criminal activity for the accruement of personal or party wealth and leverage, which was institutionalised in 1990s democracy, continues to flourish.
Though the criminal-politician nexus finds its roots in the feudal and Panchayat systems of the past, with the advent of democracy, the Nepali Congress at first, followed by the CPN-UML sometime later, and more recently, the Maoist and Madhesi parties have also succumbed to the trend. Current Home Minister Bijay Kumar Gacchadar’s proximity to Kavre’s local don Ganesh Lama is a shining example. Although Lama has a list of crimes under his belt, he walks free, side-by-side the Home Minister, on the grounds of Tundikhel, as he was seen on March 31.
This is unsurprising, given that many culprits, like Lama or the Youth Association of Nepal’s chief Mahesh Basnet — who was responsible for the attack on journalist Khilanath Dhakal last year — used to be small-town hooligans. Over the years they grew to be powerful forces within the party and out. The parties need them to flex their political and economic muscle on the ground. Most gangsters in Nepal are evidence to this truth. In the long run, however, this kind of culture is corrosive and causes the masses to lose faith in democratic practices. Needless to say, such poisoning of the democratic culture is dangerous.